Srdja Trifkovic’s twin contributions to the April 2001 issue (Cultural Revolutions and “Sharon’s Victory and U.S. Policy in the Middle East,” The American Interest) reveal the two sides of the same sadly debased coinage of mindset which has led the Serbs into their present morass. He writes that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica “is a moral man . . . loathe to make compromises on an issue of principle” (namely, whether to hand Slobodan Milosevic over to The Hague’s war-crimes tribunal), whereas Ariel Sharon is a “19th-century-style nationalist” prime minister of an Israel that the United States must support less ardently “in favor of cool evenhandedness” so that “resurgent Islam . . . a major threat to global security” will somehow become less of a threat.

While everybody knows that European Jews experienced cruel mass extermination in World War II at the hands of German forces and local groups working on their behalf, virtually nobody knows, even today, that the same thing can be said of the Serbs, hundreds of thousands of whom perished in Croatian Ustashi concentration camps with the Nazis’ blessing. This disparity in public awareness stems from the different opportunities to make and act on moral choices that presented themselves to the postwar leadership of the two groups.

The Jewish leadership that emerged in the West after World War II, and later in the state of Israel, saw past their pain and anger and ruled out revenge as a strategy for comeback and survival. Instead, backed by the sympathy of the U.S.-aligned West, they knocked on every door with the message that the holocaust was as much the product of the cool indifference of the world powers as it was of religious intolerance and the evil ideology of one government. They made support for Israel a moral issue through which people could confront the enormity of all that wanton death, the details of which they have made sure are endlessly kept in the public consciousness. During the Vietnam War, the United States began to back Israel not only to satisfy the U.S. public, which had become pro-Israel largely because of this information campaign, but to align itself with the independent military winner that Israel had unexpectedly become. News that Israeli pilots were shooting down Russian-piloted MIGs over Egyptian airspace during the 1971 War of Attrition clinched the Pentagon’s high appraisal of the U.S.- Israel military alliance.

By contrast, after World War II, most surviving Serbs were locked away in the Yugoslavia of Tito, whom the United States took to be an enemy of our enemy, because he appeared to defy the Soviets as they swallowed up Eastern Europe. In the 1950’s, Tito’s own government, seeking to smother interethnic strife, successfully demanded that the United Nations withdraw publications documenting the Serbian holocaust, the memory of which soon dropped out of public consciousness. Their captivity under the communists throttled any public outcry over World War II atrocities against the Serbs, as many Serbs rightfully feared retribution in Tito’s torture chambers. Instead, among not just Serbs but virtually all of Yugoslavia’s other ethnic groups, an abiding, extremist “19th-century-style nationalism” won out as the dominant way of private thinking about what would eventually have to happen. When communist dominion collapsed, what greeted the eyes of the world was not a Serbian-led drive to bring old war criminals to justice within an independent state based on the rule of law, but a ghastly new archipelago of Serbian-run death camps organized for no purpose save to resurrect the horrors of World War II—only this time randomly against non-Serbs, instead of Serbs. Perhaps Yugoslav (read: Serbian) President Kostunica is a “moral man . . . loathe to make compromises on an issue of principle,” but since we never heard of him until after the aerial bombardment stopped, we don’t know how loudly he had denounced the ongoing atrocities, if indeed he ever did.

Such people as passed for Serbian leaders after the communist collapse chose revenge over reliance on moral suasion and lawful behavior, and the Serbs still suffer for it. Israel thrives, by contrast, for having attracted friends by eschewing blood revenge in favor of moral image-building. In the light of the recent spy-plane incident off the coast of China, Dr. Trifkovic ought to drop the pretentious “cool evenhandedness” rhetoric and rethink the case for cutting Israel loose. The Israelis, who almost sold the Chinese an advanced surveillance aircraft (until we reminded them that they risked the benefits of our alliance if they followed through on the deal), are people we don’t need “going it on their own” as we prepare to face off with China over control of the West Pacific over the next decade.

        —Ted Gruen
Dallas, TX

Dr. Trifkovic Replies:

That resurgent Islam would be less of a threat to American interests if the United States were perceived in the Arab world as more evenhanded is not a remarkable claim. It has been made by journalists, politicians, and policy analysts too numerous to mention.

Mr. Gruen is right about the way in which the Serbian holocaust has been airbrushed from history, but he is wrong about Tito’s reasons for doing so. Far from “seeking to smother interethnic strife,” Tito kept it on the back burner throughout his 35-year rule to ensure his role as the indispensable arbiter. He played divide et impera with his own subjects and thus prevented the development of institutions for conflict management that could outlive him. The Serbs got the worst of it not only because Tito was a Croat but because they were the most numerous group, and he needed a more level field for his game. There was no better way to ensure that the wounds remained unhealed than to pretend they didn’t exist. The fruits of Tito’s après moi le déluge were obvious a decade after his death.

Mr. Gruen’s reference to the “ghastly new archipelago of Serbian-run death camps” disappoints me. Doesn’t he read Chronicles? We have repeatedly and convincingly debunked the myth of various Yugoslav atrocities and “genocides”—from the “picture that fooled the world ” to Racak. The fact that the “mainstream” media have often followed in our footsteps some years later is a compliment we are too modest to emphasize as often as we should.

I am surprised by Mr. Gruen’s claim that “we never heard of [Kostunica] until after the aerial bombardment stopped.” I have counted four references to Dr. Kostunica in these pages before the bombing, including a lengthy quote of his in mv article, “Slobodan Milosevic, Our S.b.B.” (Views, June 1997), and Thomas Fleming’s remarkably prescient prediction that one day Kostunica would become Yugoslavia’s president (“Turn to the Dark Side,” Perspective, January 1999). As for Dr. Kostunica’s alleged failure to condemn war crimes, in his message to The Rockford Institute’s conference on U.S. policy in the Balkans last November (see The American Interest, February 2001), he said that “we should stop pretending that there is a story of blame from which the Serbs are exempt.” He continued: “We know enough about the world to know that international politics can distort the idea of justice. Let me assure you: Anti-Serbianism is as common a prejudice in the Balkans as is anti-Americanism on the world stage. The essential case for justice, the need for it, is simply this: that the human heart erases it. We accept that the judicial process should be an integral part of eventual reconciliation. But the instrumentalization of judicial retaliation can only postpone effective reconciliation, and make it more difficult.”